Sazerac Cocktail

Made with rye whiskey, absinthe and bitters, the Sazerac cocktail is a classic New Orleans drink known for its smooth and complex flavors. Learn how to make this iconic cocktail with our step-by-step guide.

A Sazerac cocktail with a slice of orange.

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Classic Sazerac cocktail recipe

It’s time for another New Orleans cocktail. Thanks to drinks like the tropical Hurricane, the sweet-and-sour Daiquiri and the robust Vieux Carré, this city is incredibly famous for its contributions to cocktail canon.

And then there’s the Sazerac, another New Orleans classic. It’s an essential cocktail that every bartender should know, from its history to the bartending techniques the recipe calls for.

A sophisticated and well-balanced drink, the recipe calls for warm rye whiskey, sweet sugar and spiced Peychaud’s bitters, all enveloped with a splash of herbal absinthe rinsed in the glass. It’s aromatic and slightly floral, making for a nuanced sipping experience full of depth and complexity.

Let’s get into this guide to this utmost classic cocktail.

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Two glasses of a Sazerac cocktail with a slice of orange.

Why you’ll love this recipe

If you are a whiskey lover, you’ll love this classic and delicious Sazerac recipe.

  • The drink is a classic, full of complex flavor.
  • With just four ingredients, the Sazerac isn’t complicated.
  • It does have some unique techniques that every bartender should know.

What is a Sazerac cocktail?

The Sazerac is a drink made by dissolving a sugar cube in rye whiskey, then pouring it into an absinthe-rinsed glass and topping it with a few dashes of Peychaud’s bitters.

Its bold flavors — spicy, anise, floral, herbal — make it a beloved, popular cocktail and you can find it in contemporary cocktail bars nationwide.

A Sazerac, a classic cocktail made with bourbon, served alongside a bottle of bourbon.

History of the Sazerac

The drink wasn’t always made the way it is made today. Originating at the Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans in the mid-1800s, the original drink recipe used cognac. In the late 19th century, an outbreak of phylloxera aphids resulted in a grape shortage, limiting the production of French cognac.

Without cognac, rye whiskey became the new star of the Sazerac, but that wasn’t the only shake-up.

Later, in 1912, absinthe became illegal in the United States due to its high alcohol percentage, so bartenders substituted Herbsaint, a local anise-flavored liqueur meant to mimic the flavor of absinthe.

Finally, in 2007, a new formula for absinthe became legal in the United States, so the drink can be made in the classic way again.

A Sazerac cocktail with a slice of orange.
Sazerac
Two glasses of a Scotch Old-Fashioned cocktail with ice and an orange peel.
Old-fashioned

Sazerac vs. Old Fashioned

The Sazerac and the Old-Fashioned are similar cocktails, both with a base of whiskey, but there are some key differences.

  • Whiskey: While the old-fashioned is classically made with bourbon whiskey, it can also be made with other spirits like mezcal, Scotch or rum. The Sazerac is almost always made with rye whiskey, except for the original recipe which was made with cognac.
  • Bitters: The classic old-fashioned is made with aromatic Angostura bitters, while the Sazerac is made with Peychaud’s bitters, which has more floral and anise flavors and a bright red color.
  • Absinthe rinse: The Sazerac is prepared by rinsing a splash of absinthe around the drinking glass before adding the cocktail. The old-fashioned does not contain absinthe; however, some bartenders spritz the glass with orange zest for added flavor.
  • Flavor: Thanks to the spicy rye whiskey, herbal bitters and licorice-flavored absinthe, the flavor of a Sazerac is vastly different from a bourbon-based old-fashioned with hints of orange and spiced bitters.
  • Garnish: Old-fashioneds call for a piece of orange zest for garnish and flavor, while Sazeracs use lemon zest. The old-fashioned sometimes includes a cocktail cherry too.
  • Popularity: The old-fashioned is more well-known and it’s ubiquitous in just about any bar. The Sazerac has been around a long time, but it’s a classic worth trying. If you’re burnt out on old-fashioneds, the Sazerac is a delicious and flavorful alternative.
A glass of Sazerac being poured into a glass.

Tools & equipment

The Sazerac isn’t difficult to make, but it is helpful to have some special tools. Here’s what you need to make a Sazerac cocktail:

  1. Mixing Glass: Typically a heavy-bottomed mixing glass is used for stirring together the ingredients. You could also stir them together in a cocktail shaker (but don’t shake it) if that’s what you have.
  2. Bar Spoon: A long-handled spoon is used for stirring the ingredients in the mixing glass. This helps achieve proper dilution and mixing without agitating the drink too much.
  3. Muddler: Some bar spoons have a muddler on the other end. If not, you can use a muddler, a wooden stick designed for mashing cocktail ingredients. This can help break down the sugar cube faster.
  4. Jigger: These measuring tools ensure accurate proportions of each ingredient. The standard Sazerac recipe requires precise measurements for the most balanced drink.
  5. Strainer: A strainer is essential to separate the liquid from the ice after stirring. A julep strainer or a Hawthorne strainer can be used, depending on your preference.
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In addition, you might like having these tools if you like making Sazeracs at home.

  • Spray bottle or atomizer: As absinthe is typically used to coat the glass before pouring the rest of the ingredients, having a small spray bottle or atomizer makes it easier to control the amount used with just a few spritzes.
  • Clear ice cube tray: We like to make clear ice for our drinks, because they melt slower and don’t crackle.
  • Vegetable peeler: These are helpful for getting a piece of lemon zest for the garnish.
A person preparing a Sazerac cocktail by elegantly slicing an orange garnish into a glass of bourbon.

Glassware

The Sazerac is usually served in a rocks glass, also called an old-fashioned glass.

These lowball glasses are short and sturdy, putting the top of the liquid close to your nose so you can take in the spiced, anise, herbal and floral fragrances of this cocktail as you sip.

A variety of cocktails and garnishes on a table.

Ingredient notes

Here’s what you’ll need to grab at the grocery store and the liquor store to make this recipe:

  • Rye whiskey: Rye is a type of whiskey with a more astringent flavor than bourbon; however, many bourbon brands also produce rye whiskey. It uses a rye mash or a mash combination of rye and malt. The U.S. regulations stipulate that the mash must contain at least 51% rye grains in order to be called rye whiskey.
  • Absinthe: You should be able to find absinthe in your local liquor store, as it is now legal in the United States. Check out this list of the best absinthe brands available. Pernod is popular, but use what you have.
  • Peychaud’s bitters: This is a different brand than the Angostura bitters that many cocktails call for. Peychaud’s is bright red and has the distinct flavors of anise, cherry, clove orange and mint. It’s worth adding to your bitters collection.
  • Sugar cube: A sugar cube provides the sweetness in this cocktail. If you don’t have cubes, you can use a teaspoon of sugar or a splash of simple syrup. You could also experiment with homemade flavored sugar cubes.
  • Lemon peel: Finish the drink off with a piece of lemon zest for a garnish. Use a vegetable peeler to get a good piece, avoiding as much of the bitter white pith as you can.

Before you begin, don’t forget to freeze up some large ice cubes or large ice spheres — these have less surface area than a bunch of smaller ice cubes, so they melt slower and don’t dilute the drink.

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How to make a Sazerac drink

Here’s how to make this easy, traditional Sazerac cocktail recipe:

A person mixing a Sazerac cocktail, pouring bourbon into a glass.
A person elegantly pouring a Sazerac cocktail into a glass.

First, prepare the rocks glass. Add a small splash of absinthe or use a spray bottle. Rotate the glass to distribute the liquid around the inside of the glass. Discard any extra if desired.

A person expertly pouring a Sazerac Cocktail into a glass with a spoon.
A person pouring a Sazerac cocktail into a glass.

Add the sugar cube to a mixing glass and add a splash of soda water on top. Muddle the sugar cube to crush it and stir until dissolved in the water.

A person pouring a Sazerac cocktail into a glass.
A glass of Sazerac being poured into a glass.

Add an ice cube to the mixing glass, then top with rye whiskey. Stir gently with the bar spoon to combine.

A person pouring a Sazerac cocktail into a glass.
A person pouring a Sazerac cocktail into a glass with an ice cube.

Strain the rye mixture into the absinthe-rinsed glass. Carefully add an ice cube.

A person pouring a Sazerac cocktail into a glass.
A person preparing a Sazerac cocktail by elegantly slicing an orange garnish into a glass of bourbon.

Add a few dashes of Peychaud’s bitters over top, then garnish with a piece of lemon zest.

The absinthe rinse

The Sazerac cocktail calls for an absinthe rinse of the cocktail glass before pouring in the cocktail mixture.

In cocktail making, a rinse involves coating the inside of a glass with a splash of alcohol. This leaves residual flavor and aroma in the glass without adding extra liquid to the cocktail.

You can also use a small spray bottle or atomizer to spritz the inside of the glass and lightly coat it with flavor.

To produce an absinthe rinse:

  1. Add a tiny bit of absinthe to a glass.
  2. Rotate the glass to distribute the liquid around the inside of the glass.
  3. Discard any extra if desired.
  4. Then, add the cocktail.
A Sazerac cocktail with ice and a slice of orange.

Tips & tricks

Here are a few practical guidelines to follow when making this recipe:

  • Don’t skip the absinthe rinse. It adds an extra flavor and aroma to the cocktail that you can’t get without it.
  • Stir the cocktail, don’t shake it. Shaking invigorates the ingredients with ice, creating too much dilution. Stirring lets you have more control.
  • Before topping the drink with a lemon peel, give it a little twist around the rim of the glass to release a spritz of essential oils to enhance the sipping experience.
A Sazerac cocktail with a glass of whiskey and a spoon next to it.

What to serve with a Sazerac

When serving a sophisticated and distinctly flavorful cocktail like the Sazerac, you want to pair it with the right foods.

A cheese and charcuterie board can have lots of sweet and salty elements that pair well with the anise flavors. Dark chocolate is also a nice match for the complex flavors in this cocktail.

Salty and spiced foods like popcorn shrimp and spiced popcorn can be a delicious pairing as well.

FAQ

Should a Sazerac use cognac or whiskey?

While the original Sazerac recipe from the mid-1800s calls for French cognac, the Sazeracs of today use rye whiskey.

What’s the difference between a Sazerac and an Old Fashioned?

The Sazerac and the Old-Fashioned are similar cocktails, both with a whiskey base, but there are some key differences. Old-fashioneds usually use bourbon, orange peel and Angostura bitters, while Sazeracs call for rye whiskey, lemon peel and Peychaud’s bitters.

More classic cocktails

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A Sazerac cocktail with a slice of orange.

Classic Sazerac Cocktail

Yield: 1 drink
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Craft the perfect Sazerac with rye whiskey, absinthe, Peychaud's Bitters and a touch of sugar — a rich, balanced cocktail with a hint of anise and warmth.
5 from 1 vote
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ingredients

  • 1 splash absinthe for rinse
  • 1 sugar cube see notes
  • 1 splash soda water
  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • 3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 1 large ice cube
  • 1 piece lemon zest for garnish

instructions

  • First, prepare the rocks glass. Add a small splash of absinthe or use a spray bottle. Rotate the glass to distribute the liquid around the inside of the glass. Discard any extra if desired.
  • Add the sugar cube to a mixing glass and add a splash of soda water on top. Muddle the sugar cube to crush it and stir until dissolved in the water.
  • Add an ice cube to the mixing glass, then top with rye whiskey. Stir gently with the bar spoon to combine.
  • Strain the rye mixture into the absinthe-rinsed glass. Carefully add an ice cube.
  • Add a few dashes of Peychaud’s bitters over top, then garnish with a piece of lemon zest.

notes

A single sugar cube can be substituted with 1 teaspoon granulated sugar or ¼ ounce simple syrup.

recommended products

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nutrition information

Yield: 1 drink

amount per serving:

Serving: 2.25ounces Calories: 177kcal Carbohydrates: 6g Protein: 0.1g Fat: 0.03g Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.01g Sodium: 2mg Potassium: 10mg Fiber: 1g Sugar: 5g Vitamin A: 3IU Vitamin C: 8mg Calcium: 9mg Iron: 0.1mg
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